I expected to see a beautiful, lush, green country, and I did.
I expected to hear English spoken with wonderful lilting Irish accents and unusual phrases, and I did.
I expected to see castles and eat potatoes, and I did.
I expected to hear a lot of music in 6/8 time, and I did.
All of these items on my checklist were completely fulfilled. But as I've had a couple of weeks to reflect, I've concluded that there were a number of surprises. Here are the 8 that stand out in my mind.
The Irish people LOVE Johnny Cash!
I've lived most of my life within an hour and a half of Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry, but somehow I had never connected country music icon Johnny Cash with Ireland. Apparently, at the height of his fame in 1959, Johnny visited Ireland and loved it. He went back home and wrote a song called "40 Shades of Green." In several places where our group was entertained, this song was enthusiastically performed. Here is the 1st verse and the chorus:
I close my eyes and picture The emerald of the sea From the fishing boats at Dingle To the shores of Donaghadee
I miss the river Shannon And the folks at Skibbereen The moorlands and the meddle With their forty shades of green
But most of all I miss a girl In Tipperary town And most of all I miss her lips As soft as eiderdown
Again I want to see and do The things we've done and seen Where the breeze is sweet as Shalimar And there's forty shades of green.
I have to agree with Johnny that the names of Irish towns lend themselves well to music.
2. The Location of the Blarney Stone
I was pretty sure that I didn't want to actually put my lips where thousands of other people had put theirs -- especially considering a worldwide pandemic -- but the deal was sealed when I realized that it was at the TOP of a very high castle!! I didn't need the Gift of Gab quite that much. My son-in-law, the one who will likely NOT be getting a very big Christmas gift this year, actually suggested that if I HAD kissed the stone, perhaps my gift of gab would have been reversed. Of all the nerve! :)
Anyway, my fearless Silver Fox climbed to the top, found it to be attached to the side of a wall, and realized you had to get under the stone to kiss it. He passed on the experience, as well.
3. The Music of Uilleann Pipes (Irish bagpipes)
Irish bagpipes are very different from Scottish bagpipes. Rather than blowing into them, the player uses his elbows to activate bellows that push air into the instrument. The instrument is smaller than Scottish bagpipes, is played sitting down rather than standing up, and isn't nearly as loud. I enjoyed the sound and was impressed with the skill of the players I observed.
4. Gaelic was everywhere.
Before I went to Ireland, I naively thought, "Well, at least they speak English!" Yes, they DO speak English, but in many cases, Irish Gaelic is actually the first language. Every sign was in both Gaelic and English, and many Irish words are derived from Gaelic. There are some in the country who ONLY speak Irish Gaelic or specifically, Gaeilge. Gaelic, in fact, is specifically Scottish, so it is important to make the distinction.
5. So Many Flowers.
I expected to see green, but I was surprised by the profusion of color. It makes sense now that I think about it. The climate is mild, and there is plenty of rain. From formal gardens to large pots scattered around the towns, the flowers added so much.
6. Ireland's Weather
It's almost a joke to watch the weather report in Ireland. There will rarely be changes. Steve and I prepared ourselves for coolish temperatures, cloudy days, and lots of rain. We had raincoats, rain ponchos, rain hats, and even plastic covers for our shoes. I only wore my poncho for a little while on ONE day. Several days were overcast, but we actually had 3 days of brilliant sunshine and warm temperatures! Thank goodness for air conditioning on our motorcoach, but sadly the same wasn't true for the hotel rooms.
7. Unairconditioned Hotel Rooms
We stayed in 7 different hotels all over the country, and not a single one was air-conditioned. Each one had a way to open a window at least a little bit. That would actually have been fine, except for those unseasonably warm days we had which, in turn, warmed up the hotel rooms. For someone like me who is allergic to practically every outdoor plant, it was quite a deal to sleep with the window open every night. It was not surprising that by the third day, I had a cough and a sinus infection. That was a bummer, and I'm not sure how I could have fixed the problem if I'd known in advance. Different pajamas? A small lightweight blanket to use rather than the heavy duvet cover on the bed? Pack a fan with a plug that was compatible with Irish electricity? Maybe. It's definitely not a deal-breaker, but something you should keep in mind when you're planning your own trip.
Full disclosure: We lived in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador without air conditioning and did fine. But being from the Deep South, air conditioning is pretty much a necessity. I know. I'm spoiled.
8. The Effect of Covid on the Experience
Ray, the very friendly Well-Being Director assigned to our group, did a great job of sanitizing the high touch areas of the bus, squirting hand sanitizer in our hands every time we boarded, reminding us to wear our masks, and arranging our Covid tests before departure. But, it's quite a tiring ordeal to wear a mask all day. (Bless those teachers, school children, and employees everywhere!).
In several restaurants, we had to show our vaccination cards before we could enter AND give them our phone numbers (supposedly for future contact tracing should the need arise).
Proof of vaccination was required to even board the plane TO Ireland and to enter the country.
This sign in a store was rather startling.
It was good that our travel group was small. It was good that the Irish people were so welcoming to us after going so long without tourists. But still, the experience was not as "full" as it could have been, and there were quite a few excursions that were not offered because of the pandemic. When Steve and I went to Germany and Austria just 3 months BEFORE the pandemic began, the environment was completely different. It's such a shame. I PRAY, PRAY, PRAY that this cloud of fear will be behind us soon.
Am I glad we went to Ireland? Absolutely!
Do I recommend a visit to Ireland? No doubt about it.
Do I plan to leave the country again while the restrictions are still so stringent? Probably not.. . . . and that's a shame. Sigh.